On of my esteemed colleagues at Officer.com is Val Van Brocklin. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and visiting with her at the recent international ILEETA conference in Chicago. She is awesome and one incredibly powerful communicator.
Val has written a series of articles for Officer.com on the topic of Training Cops to Lie. This is an issue which drew my interest because my life has been directly affected by it. I called Val to suggest some ideas which she might want to include in her ongoing series. After all, I judge that she has taken some ownership of the subject.
She was quick to point out that she has intentionally stayed on one side of the line and written only about the use of police deception when it is either sanctioned or specifically authorized in the investigation of criminal activity. We agreed: she will write about the legal and ethical use of deception while I will explore the other side.
Cops learn very early that lying is an essential part of survival, self-preservation and self defense. However, some cops don't know where to stop. Although lying is not officially accepted behavior, in reality it is tacitly approved by our leaders and seasoned officers. There is enormous peer pressure to conform.
Ours is a battle-hardened band of brothers. Nearly every cop is a superb example of humanity, but some cops cannot seem to find the line. They end up on a slippery slope, with their lives and careers sliding into a cesspool of ethical failure. Worse, they call on their brothers to conceal and protect them from scrutiny or incrimination.
With one's entrance into the world of law enforcement, a rookie quickly learns about the unique culture. If you doubt me, spend a few hours at an academy when it is early on in the training process. Rookies learn to take orders, deal with multiple demands, handle superiors who are ill-mannered ways and keep their mouths shut, except with an occasional "Yes Sir!" as their only response.
They learn the hard way of the importance of sticking together and having each others' backs. One of the earliest lessons that I remember from my academy was the instructor saying, "Never burn a cop and never burn a cop's family." He went on to explain that cops are bound together in a single unit and it is morally wrong to ever turn against a brother officer.
The setting is important. I was in the first weeks of training. The instructor was an authority figure whom I had come to respect. He made that statement and wasn't open to debate. It was stated as fact, with no room for challenge. Though not very young, I was impressionable, and I took the message to heart.
Our training continued. In other classes, we saw videos. We went to the gym to learn and practice defensive tactics. We learned about weapons and went to the range. All put together, we were getting a very practical understanding of the use of force and the risks that lie ahead.
About midway through the academy experience, one of the instructors expounded on the duty we take on as part of our oath as a cop. In the battlefields of the streets, "Never leave a brother behind." The instructor continued, "When you put on the badge, you proclaim your willingness to give your life without hesitation to save a brother cop. If you are not fully prepared to do that, NOW is the time to leave. Do not live a lie. Do not pin on the badge if you don't really intend to rise to meet the obligations of the duty it implies."
I was profoundly struck by those words. The concept enveloped me. Over the next days I talked with my wife about it. I prayed about it. I considered what it truly meant for me to ensure that I was ready. As I look back, these were many of the same feelings I had before asking my wife of 38 years to marry me. This would change everything. I had to be ready, or I had to quit. I remained and have never looked back or regretted it for a moment.